HOWLAND - Bella Elisco knew she's always had an advantage over her opponents.
"I've had power from the second I started tennis," said the Howland High School sophomore girls tennis player. "My coach saw something in me. I've stuck to the sport every since. Nobody can touch my serve.
"It's probably the biggest advantage I have on somebody."
Tribune Chronicle / John Vargo
From left, Lauren Kraker, Bella Elisco and Nicole Lussier are Howland’s singles girls tennis players on a team that has only two returning letterwinners — a team that had five seniors and one of its best seasons last year.
Her coach, Paul Newlove, saw that power in her game.
"She can hit the ball as hard as most guys when she wants to, and she's pretty smart," Newlove said.
The smart money on Howland's team would be to say it's a rebuilding year, losing five of its top seven to graduation - only Elisco and junior Nicole Lussier return.
Denna Awadalla, Marissa Jocola, Michelle Lussier, Harvest Radich and Natalie Orr were instrumental of best campaigns in Tigers' history last season.
This year, a freshman, Lauren Kraker, rounds out to the top three singles players. Then, some newbies took over as the Tigers' doubles teams.
Who would've thought Howland would be 5-2 to start the season?
"You really have to fight for everything," Nicole Lussier said. "We played Ursuline. Usually, we do really well against them every time we've played them. (The other day), the girl I played, it ended up 6-4. Honestly, you have to fight for everything."
Kraker said not many people gave her a chance to be successful as a freshman. In fact, she said they expected her to lose more often than not.
She doesn't give up easily either.
"Really knowing I still have chances," Kraker said. "If you're down 5-1, you still have another set. You can really do it. It's not over. I have to tell myself it's not over yet."
Newlove will take Elisco and Kraker over anybody's top two in Trumbull County.
"Right now, Bella is as good as any No. 1 in Trumbull County, actually better," Newlove said. "Lauren is as good as any No. 2 in Trumbull County, actually better."
Newlove said Lussier is a solid No. 3 and keeps the Tigers in most matches. The only thing he doesn't like is his junior doesn't have a killer instinct.
"She's always happy, almost too much," Newlove said. "She talks to the other kids she plays well. I tell her, 'Get angry. Don't like them.' She says, 'But they're nice.' She's so incredibly nice, it's hard to feel she's got that killer instinct. She's got good stroke. She's played a long time. She played No. 1 doubles last year. She's got a little sister coming up that's really good. It's in her family genes to be a good player. I think she's going to challenge these girls (Elisco and Kraker) next year. We'll see."
As for this year, Elisco said she credits her coach for bringing it all together.
"This year, our team is a little weaker," Elisco said. "We have new people, but Paul does a very good job keeping us in control, strategy, most importantly, against people who are weaker, pushers. All together, we don't give up."